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The 8 Ball 12.24.13: Top 8 Keanu Reeves Films
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 12.24.2013

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Keanu Reeves Films

Welcome back to the 8 Ball, ladies and gentlemen! It's the end of the year and the studios are putting out some films that they hope become true "event movies" for the holiday season this week. One of those is Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin, and to be honest it is probably the least likely to make it big. Advance buzz is not great and the ballooned budget suggests that this one is dead in the water. That being said, I think that Reeves gets a bad rap as an actor. While he is not the most expressive or greatest actor in the business, Reeves has shown that he can embody roles well and he has several good-to-great films in his filmography. (Also of note, he is a very capable filmmaker as well: check out Side By Side about cinematography as well as his feature directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi.) This week I thought we could prove that by look at the best films on his resume.

Caveat: Similar to last week's Will Farrell list, this week I was looking at films in which Keanu Reeves had a leading or major supporting role. So for example, I disqualified Parenthood because he has a relatively smaller part and can't really be called the "star" of that film. Same with Bram Stoker's Dracula, in which his Jonathon Harker is almost a side note and plot device. For a film to qualify, Reeves' role had to be a really significant element to the film. As for ranking placements, I was looking at the overall film as opposed to just Reeves' work.

Just Missing The Cut

Man of Tai Chi (2013)
Permanent Record (1988)
Thumbsucker (2005)
The Replacements (2000)
River's Edge (1986)

#8: Constantine (2005)

I suspect that I may have lost some of you right off the bat here. And that's fine. If there's one comic book that I've wanted always felt would make a great adaptation to film or television, it would be Hellblazer. John Constantine would make a fantastic anti-hero on an HBO, AMC or F/X series, and there is a lot of potential in him as a film series. And like most Hellblazer fans, I was annoyed when this film was announced with Reeves in the lead role and everything transplanted to Los Angeles, as Reeves is exactly what you wouldn't think of when you're looking for someone to play Alan Moore's chain-smoking occultist. And the truth is that Constantine is not in fact a good adaptation of Hellblazer. But if you can get past that, it is a good supernatural action-thriller. Reeves may not have Constantine's blond hair and English accent, but he has the man's acerbic personality down pat and Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Stormare and Pruitt Taylor Vince are all excellent in their roles. (Shia LaBeouf is not as good, but his character is also the most glaring weakness of the film so he gets a pass.) Francis Lawrence created some powerful visual moments including the trip to hell, while the plot is a typical mishmash of elements from the comic but they fit together in a way that works. By no means is it a perfect film, but it is far better than it gets credit for.

#7: The Devil's Advocate (1997)

One of the reasons that Reeves seems to have a lesser reputation as an actor is that he has been paired with some of the all-time greats. I'm not saying that the man is Oscar material, but when you're on screen opposite the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson, Steve Martin, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton and so on, you're gonna look lesser in comparison. That's what happened with The Devil's Advocate. Again, don't get me wrong here: Al Pacino's John Milton is the highlight of the film. But he's supposed to be the highlight and Reeves' hotshot attorney Kevin Lomax is supposed to be the straight man against just about every character in the film. Even Charlize Theron gets to go insane, while the rest get to play deliciously evil. What is often missed with this film is how well Reeves and Pacino play off of each other. Taylor Hackford gets some gorgeous shots in and keeps the tone of this from getting too silly or too serious while the script from Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy (based on Andrew Neiderman's novel) is surprisingly strong for a 1990s legal horror-thriller. And the humor is shockingly effective too. This is one of those films that are probably far better than you remember it being, and it holds up surprisingly well considering how old it is.

#6: Point Break (1991)

You know, in retrospect this film doesn't seem quite as ridiculous in concept as it used to be. In the days of the Fast & Furious franchise it is easier to accept the idea of...well, basically the plot of Fast & Furious only with surfing instead of cars. Reeves is again playing the straight man here, as FBI agent Johnny Utah who has to infiltrate a group of surfing bank robbers led by Patrick Swayze's Bodhi. Now, you can complain about the goofiness of the plot all you want, and it's an easy target. How seriously can you take a film with characters legitimately named Johnny Utah and Bodhi, after all? But this is not a film where you're looking for a lot of dramatic credibility; you're looking for a fun action-crime drama and this pulls that off in spades. Reeves and Swayze work well off of each other and Kathryn Bigelow, long before she was earning critical acclaim with the likes of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, gave this film more dramatic and emotional weight than you would expect it to be capable of. It's one of the more unfairly-maligned films in Reeves' filmography.

#5: A Scanner Darkly (2006)

While Reeves is primarily known as a blockbuster action guy, people forget that he began his career doing smaller independent dramas and comedies. He returned to his independent roots for none other than Richard Linklater for the rotoscoped adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, playing an undercover narcotics officer who used a special suit to complete change his appearance into that of a dealer of the reality-warping "Substance D." Reeves was great in this role; he's always played morally-conflicted characters better than he gets credit for and he captures the essence of Bob Arctor very well in this film. Some audiences passed it by because of the odd animation effect that rotoscoping (basically animating over live performances) gives off, but the aesthetic gave Linklater a lot of freedom and fit the film's spacey, hallucinogenic story nicely. Add in a fantastically paranoid and cynical performance by Robert Downey Jr. and solid turns by Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder and you have a film that definitely deserves a wider audience, projecting Dick's image of what America could become quite nicely.

#4: My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Everyone always remembers My Own Private Idaho for River Phoenix's performance, and rightly so. The late Phoenix's turn as Mikey is the highlight of Gus Van Sant's loose Henry IV adaptation. But Reeves also turns in the best dramatic performance of his career in this indy darling about two male prostitutes wrestling with their sexuality, life on the streets and Mike's attempts to reconnect with his mother. This was the film that really showed some people that Reeves was more than just "that stoner actor from the time-travel comedy" and it turned a lot of heads for all the right reasons. Van Sant is a director who generally you either love or hate and I've always been a big fan. This was the first film in the 1990s trend of giving Shakespearean adaptations a modern setting, with Ten Things I Hate About You and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet following in the years after. It also happened to go down in the midst of independent cinema's rise and was influential in helping that along. If you've ever thought of Reeves as a poor actor who is just a part of the Hollywood system, check this one out. It'll change your mind.

#3: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Now we're into the true elite; the iconic Keanu Reeves films. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was, of course, the film which launched Reeves as a household name and a potential Hollywood star. It's funny when you think about it, because it seems like such an unlikely concept of a film to become a real success: a couple of rock and roll stoners meet a man who helps them travel through time so that they can ace their history class, not flunk out of school and then become rock gods who will lead mankind to a golden age. Only in the '80s, folks, would this be signed off on by a Hollywood studio; you wouldn't see a film this outlandish today. And yet it worked, thanks to so many factors. Alex Winters and Reeves are phenomenal in their roles as Bill and Ted, with George Carlin delivering a lot of laughs himself as Rufus. The script by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon manages to be both hilariously funny and educational for teens, which is a rare duo to pull off, and it has become easily the most quotable film in Reeves' filmography. The sequel was good if not quite as great as the original and the films are so revered that demand for a third film is high even now, almost a quarter of a century after the original. That's quite the statement to just how good it really is.

#2: The Matrix (1999)

Okay, so forget the sequels on this one; we're talking about the original. The Wachowskis' Matrix franchise may have suffered in reputation after the release of The Matrix Revolutions (and, although I enjoyed it, The Matrix Reloaded as well), but the original film remains a true game-changer both in terms of visual effects and storyline. This post-apocalyptic film, which combined elements of video games with some surprisingly deep philosophical questions for a sci-fi actionfest, came out of nowhere and captured the attention of the world upon its release in 1999. While it in no way approached the blockbuster grosses of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace during that spring/summer season, it is safe to say that it completely stole the Lucasfilm franchise's thunder as most-lauded and talked about sci-fi film from that year. Reeves played it cool as the chosen one Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss became a star as the laconic, bad-ass Trinity, with Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne providing dramatic gravitas in their respective roles. It is safe to say that The Matrix is one of the more influential films of the late 1990s, reinventing what was possible with digital effects while delivering some fairly mind-blowing action scenes and giving Reeves one of his most identifiable roles to date.

#1: Speed (1994)

It's razor-thin between the top two for me, but Reeves' personal Die Hard just barely takes the cake. Speed was one of several films that came out in the wake of Bruce Willis' 1989 action extravaganza; at the time, every action film seemed to be a variation of John McClane versus Hans Gruber. And Speed can certainly be described as "Die Hard on a bus," which is a pretty ridiculous idea when you think about it. But man, did it work like gangbusters. Reeves is great as the hotshot LAPD SWAT team man who has to match wits with Dennis Hopper's unforgettable bomb-making psycho. And Sandra Bullock became a star with her portrayal of Annie Porter, the bystander who has a host of parking tickets and thus ends up on the very bus where speed is a thing to be desired. The film won Oscars for Sound and Sound Effects Editing but let's face it; this isn't a film that we love because it's a high-caliber masterpiece. This is a film we watch because it gets out adrenaline going, gives us memorable heroes and villains and lets us enjoy some seriously satisfying crowd-pleasing moments. The action set-pieces are top-notch and Jan de Bont (who, not surprisingly, shot Die Hard) does wonderful things with them. The pacing, the editing of scenes, the score, the action...everything about this film is put together exactly how it should be. That's what makes this movie such a classic and the best film on Keanu Reeves' resume.

Disguise of the Episode

Current Series/Season: Season One (2001 - 2002)
Episodes Watched: 11
Last Serial Completed: The Confession - Sydney is grateful and proud of her father after he saves her life while on a case in Havana. But her admiration is short lived when Vaughn discovers further evidence that Jack may have been responsible for the deaths of over a dozen CIA officers many years earlier.
Episodes Remaining: 94

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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